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Rustic Garden Furniture

RUSTIC TIMBER FURNITURE/Structures

Bush timbers, willow canes, tea tree twigs, old railway sleepers and other rustic materials can be used to create some unusual and highly individual garden features, including furniture, fences and rustic garden structures. These timbers, often collected on site, give the garden an unpretentious, comfortable feel, which fits in well with bush and cottage gardens.

Most rustic garden structures can be built by any backyard enthusiast, requiring few tools and very little carpentry expertise. Unlike shop-bought outdoor furniture, the rough-hewn handmade appearance, complete with minor imperfections, simply adds to their charm. Just make sure the furniture is strong enough to do the job and will last well out in the weather.

WHAT TIMBER TO USE

The main criterion is that the timber must be durable and able to withstand outdoor use. Native hardwoods are often preferred because they are durable and do not require preservatives. Soft timbers, such as pine, will require treatment for outdoor use. Treatments include creosote and preserving paints and stains.

Rough sawn softwood and hardwood timber can be purchased direct from the timber yard or from a hardware supplier. The timber is generally sold in stock lengths, eg. 1.8 m, but short lengths and off cuts are also generally available. Most suppliers will be able to offer a range of local and imported timbers and will be able to advise you on what timbers are suitable for your intended use.

If you prefer old, recycled timber you may be able to hunt down interesting pieces from specialist recycled timber yards. These are generally very solid, have an attractive aged appearance, and often have an interesting history behind them – but don’t expect them to be cheap. Also make sure that all nails, bolts, metal clamps, etc. have been removed as they can cause serious harm if they come into contact with chainsaws or electrical equipment.

Depending on how much time you are prepared to spend scouting around, you may be able to find suitable timber out in the bush or even in the garden. It’s not difficult to find pine trees growing wild in the country, in old country gardens and self-seeded in paddocks (ask the landowners permission first!). Willow can also be found out in the country, growing along waterways. Willow is an adaptable timber, the smooth canes can be bent to shape to create garden seats and other ‘ornate’ pieces of furniture.

Timber collected from the bush will have bark attached, and it’s a matter of personal preference whether you keep the bark on. The bark may weaken joins if it is a point of connection, however it can give the furniture item a wonderful natural appearance. Also keep in mind that preservation treatments do not work well if bark is attached.

HOW TO JOIN THE TIMBER

Always used galvanised steel nails, bolts, etc. to prevent rusting. Shiny, new bolts and nails which detract from the rustic appearance can be hidden by tying climber canes around the joints – this makes it look as though the canes are holding the whole thing together. Rope and garden twine can also be used to create this effect.

Wire and twine can be used on their own but only for items that do not bear a heavy load.

SOME DESIGN OPTIONS

Rough-hewn timber furniture can be easily crafted using a chainsaw, or a large electric power saw (at least a 235 mm diameter blade). Pieces can be fixed with galvanised or stainless steel bolts.

Benches

A timber bench is probably the easiest piece of garden furniture to build. It can be constructed from old railway sleepers, commonly available in 1.8, 2.1, 2.4 and 2.7 metre lengths, and thicknesses of 50 mm, 75 mm and 100 mm. The most common width is 200 mm.

As with other rough-hewn furniture, the sleepers can be readily cut using a chainsaw or large electric power saw. A simple design to try is to simply fix two uprights, cut from a 100 mm thick sleeper, and about 1 m in length, into the ground about 40-45 cm deep (in concrete), and about 1.5-1.8 m apart. Another sleeper (of suitable length) is placed on top of the uprights and fixed into position so it won't move. This can be done with large galvanised or stainless steel woodscrews through the top sleeper into the top of the upright (and countersunk so that they’re not poking above the timber).

Seats

Seats can be built as permanent fixtures from heavy, solid pieces of wood, or can be made using lighter timber so that they can be moved about.

Generally the ‘legs’ and back support tend to be the most strongly supported components of the seat. The horizontal slats or weaved branches need to be made strong enough to support the weight of a person sitting on it.

Modification to timber seats

Armrests are optional but are preferred.

Seat may be built with a back rest or without.

Tables

Tables are made in a similar way to benches but at a height more suited to placing items on it when eating. The table top needs to be level so that items do not roll off or tip over. Tables placed outdoors need to have gaps between the top slats so that dirt and grim will not accumulate on top.

Fences

One of the simplest rustic fences is built from tea tree sticks nailed on to a timber frame.

For a simple fence a criss-cross pattern of two timbers can be sufficient. Timbers need to be cut so that pieces are recessed to fit in snuggly.

Other Ideas

· Wagon wheel seats can be created using durable timbers and two old, solid, spoked wagon wheels as the supports or uprights.

· The simplist way to create a seat is by cutting a large log into the shape of a seat using a chainsaw. Although crude, it is effective and useable as a garden seat.

SOME HINTS

· Make sure your furniture is well anchored. This is for safety reasons, and to prevent them from being stolen.

· Ensure that there are no sharp pieces or splinters that might cause injury.

· Use preservatives to prevent the furniture from deteriorating, unless your furniture is made of natural timbers or sleepers and you wish to get a well weathered appearance.

· Check your furniture periodically to ensure that there are no loose or dangerous parts.

· Check periodically for spiders (eg redbacks).

· For seats, invest in some cushions so that you can make them more comfortable and pleasureable to sit on.

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